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Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. As I understood Clause 196(5) when the matter was being debated at an earlier stage, the Government eventually put on the face of the Bill their recognition of the very real concerns that had been expressed. Clause 196(5) is about financial accessibility. It refers to,


The debate that we had on that certainly centred around the question of money; for example, whether there was a need for a deposit. If it is easy to secure suitable alternative accommodation, then the authority will be unable to assist the person and stop him becoming homeless. If the accommodation is secured under Clause 194(4) then it is subject to the provisions of Clause 192. I am not sure where this is taking us.

Clause 194(2) talks about,


    "This subsection has effect subject to section 196.
The Minister has told me that I am undermining Section 192. I am not sure that I follow that. He said that the Government accept that the first course would be to prevent homelessness, and that is the purpose of the amendment. It is to provide that the first course shall be

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first and that it should be exhausted to a reasonable extent. I am not sure that I am going to get any more from the Government. I have made my point. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 73 not moved.]

Clause 196 [Duty where other suitable accommodation available]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 74:


Page 118, line 45, at end insert--
("( ) If the authority are satisfied that suitable accommodation is available for occupation by the applicant under this section they shall notify him, under the provisions of section 183(3), of the address or addresses of the accommodation which they are satisfied is available for his occupation.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I hope that this will be a simpler point. The amendment builds on--that is the right term--our debate at the last stage. A similar amendment was tabled then requiring the authority to provide the address of suitable accommodation. The new amendment requires authorities to provide the address or addresses.

The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, presented the Government's case and I asked him at col. 95 on 8th July, regarding my amendment respecting particular addresses, how, if the authority is not aware of the address of the property, it can know that it is suitable. The Minister's answer came at col. 96. To an extent the answer was understandable. The noble Earl said:


    "The property will be suitable if in practice it meets the needs of the applicant".--[Official Report, 8/7/96; col. 96.]
I am still unclear about how, without knowing the property referred to, the Government can be so sure of the matter. I am concerned that failure to provide addresses undermines the duty which, I happily acknowledge, is a strengthened duty which the Government brought forward on Report. If the applicant is directed towards suitable alternative accommodation under Clause 196, he needs to be directed to a specific property which is suitable and available. Without the address of the property, the applicant will be unable to challenge any decision that the local authority may make.

Perhaps I may put this in a context which may have a little resonance for your Lordships. Noble Lords may have experienced trying to move house and asking an estate agent for details of suitable properties, having given the agent one's requirements. My neighbours have this experience at the moment. I do not know if it is simply that estate agents do not wish to understand the constraints, but every estate agent I have ever encountered comes back, having heard the criteria, with details of properties which are not suitable in terms of price, accommodation and location. That struck me as a direct comparison.

In the owner-occupied market, one might be told by an estate agent that lots of property is available, but when one comes to investigate it, that is not the case at all. I am concerned about people who do not have the security of owning the property that they are occupying and who are therefore vulnerable, although perhaps not technically under the terms of the Bill. They are

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certainly likely to have fewer resources and correspondingly greater needs. I am concerned that if provisions similar to this amendment are not written into the Bill or set down where an applicant can point to them, that applicant will have to say to an authority, "I was told by the agent that there is a lot of property available; there is not". That would be a jolly difficult issue for the two of them to fight out. I should like to protect the position of the applicant rather more than I believe is currently the case under what, as I have said, is a strengthened duty. I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, it is disappointing to return to this matter again at this late hour on Third Reading because we have gone quite a long way to meet the noble Baroness and the points she raised at earlier stages.

The noble Baroness is concerned that the local authority should give the name and address of the person to whom the applicant should go to ascertain whether he or she can be housed. The noble Baroness asked, "How can you be sure that people are suitably housed if they do not know the name and address of the person to whom to go?" An authority may refer an applicant to an accommodation agency or possibly to a landlord who has a number of properties which may not necessarily be known individually to the authority. They may not all be in the same place. If the applicant goes to the agency and is rehoused, the matter has resolved itself. If he is not rehoused, he has to come back to the local authority and the local authority has to decide whether suitable alternative accommodation really is available.

The duty of the authority is to provide advice and assistance which is sufficient to enable the applicant to secure accommodation. If the applicant is not successful in securing accommodation the duty has not been discharged; or possibly the applicant himself has failed to take reasonable steps. The duty under Clause 196 has already been greatly strengthened in response to concerns of noble Lords on the other side of the House. The authority must be satisfied that other suitable accommodation is available. Where it is so satisfied, the authority is under a duty to provide such advice and assistance as is necessary to enable the applicant to secure the accommodation. I believe that the obligations that are placed on a local authority are clear, and I hope that the noble Baroness will accept that.

9.15 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, speaking for myself and perhaps other noble Lords, although a certain amount of debate on the Bill is a matter of horse trading, I do not regard this matter in quite the same way as negotiating a commercial contract where the two sides move a little towards each other and then decide that it is simply good manners to give up. There are certain points in legislation as important as this in respect of which one has a duty, as the noble Earl might say, to keep banging on about in order to try to get the legislation as near right as possible. Twice in my introductory comments I said I recognised that the

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Government had strengthened the duty. In this amendment I seek to ensure that the matter is properly and practically applicable.

With regard to the question of rent, in the owner-occupied sector estate agents, when asked to provide details of houses in the range of, say, £120,000 to £150,000, were perfectly capable of providing details of houses costing about £225,000 and suggesting that if one simply dug a little deeper into one's pocket one could find the difference. With regard to the rented sector, it is absolutely fundamental that the price should be right. Without being able to point to the properties in question, the authority cannot know that the rent will be covered by housing benefit. The indicative rent may be but not the housing benefit allowable rent. To take just one geographical example, I am sure that the noble Earl is aware of the scale of the problem in inner London.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I believe that the noble Baroness is becoming confused as to what is and what is not suitable. At Report stage I gave perhaps the extreme example of a local authority which suggested that a person should go along to the Ritz. It might be lovely accommodation, but it would not be suitable because the person could not afford it. If a person is directed to accommodation which he or she cannot afford, it is not suitable accommodation.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, it will be obvious that certain accommodation is not suitable. I am concerned with the more marginal cases where an applicant may need to apply for a review and to appeal against a decision. However, I can see that I am getting no further on this matter. I am very sad about it. It is not a matter of saying to the Government that they have not conceded enough as part of the negotiations; it is a matter of trying to see how in practice the duty will operate. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Earl Ferrers moved Amendments Nos. 75 and 76:


Page 119, line 1, leave out subsection (6) and insert--
("(6) Subsection (1) does not apply to the duty of a local housing authority under--
section 187 (interim duty to accommodate in case of apparent priority need),
section 189(2)(a) (limited duty to person becoming homeless intentionally), or
section (Duties to applicant whose case is considered for referral or referred)(1), (3) or (4) (interim duties where case is considered for referral or referred).").
After Clause 198, insert the following new clause--

Duties to applicant whose case is considered for referral or referred

(".--(1) Where a local housing authority notify an applicant that they intend to notify or have notified another local housing authority of their opinion that the conditions are met for the referral of his case to that other authority--
(a) they cease to be subject to any duty under section 187 (interim duty to accommodate in case of apparent priority need), and

17 Jul 1996 : Column 938


(b) they are not subject to any duty under section 192 (the main housing duty),
but they shall secure that accommodation is available for occupation by the applicant until he is notified of the decision whether the conditions for referral of his case are met.
(2) When it has been decided whether the conditions for referral are met, the notifying authority shall notify the applicant of the decision and inform him of the reasons for it.
The notice shall also inform the applicant of his right to request a review of the decision and of the time within which such a request must be made.
(3) If it is decided that the conditions for referral are not met, the notifying authority shall secure that accommodation is available for occupation by the applicant until they have considered whether other suitable accommodation is available for his occupation in their district.
If they are satisfied that other suitable accommodation is available for his occupation in their district, section 196(2) applies; and if they are not so satisfied, they are subject to the duty under section 192 (the main housing duty).
(4) If it is decided that the conditions for referral are met, the notified authority shall secure that accommodation is available for occupation by the applicant until they have considered whether other suitable accommodation is available for his occupation in their district.
If they are satisfied that other suitable accommodation is available for his occupation in their district, section 196(2) applies; and if they are not so satisfied, they are subject to the duty under section 192 (the main housing duty).
(5) The duty under subsection (1), (3) or (4) ceases as provided in that subsection even if the applicant requests a review of the authority's decision (see section 201).
The authority may continue to secure that accommodation is available for the applicant's occupation pending the decision on a review.
(6) Notice required to be given to an applicant under this section shall be given in writing and, if not received by him, shall be treated as having been given to him if it is made available at the authority's office for a reasonable period for collection by him or on his behalf.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 75 and 76 have already been spoken to. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 199 [Duty to applicant whose case is referred]:


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